Belfast Telegraph

How NI's viewing habits are changing

By Jonathan Rose, Ofcom Northern Ireland DIRECTOR

Ofcom's latest Communications Market Report paints a picture of an increasingly interconnected Northern Ireland, where the internet is now accessed through our TV as well as smartphones and tablets.

More than three-quarters of adults (76%) in Northern Ireland now own a smartphone, and nearly six in ten (58%) say this is their most important device for going online. Ofcom's research also reveals a rise in tablet ownership, with three in five households (62%) now having one.

One-third (33%) of homes in Northern Ireland now have a smart TV - almost double what it was last year. Four out of five homes (79%) have a fixed-line broadband connection.

And it's in TV where these devices and the broadband and mobile services that support them is having the biggest impact.

Long gone are the days when there were a handful of TV channels and just a single TV in the house on which to watch them. Viewers are embracing the freedom to watch what they want, when they want. While watching live TV remains important, people are increasingly turning to catch-up and on-demand streaming platforms.

Services from the public service broadcasters, such as the BBC iPlayer and ITV Hub, are the most popular ways of watching on-demand and streaming programmes but significant numbers are also using YouTube for watching programmes and films (27%), while 28% now use Netflix and 16% use Amazon Video.

The growing popularity of on-demand services is turning us into a nation of binge viewers, where we watch multiple episodes of a series in one sitting, wiping out the wait for next week's instalment. One third (35%) of adults in Northern Ireland do so every week, and more than half (55%) do it monthly.

This technology has been around for a while but we are now seeing a tipping point where these services have become mainstream. These are important developments not just for consumers but for companies providing these services and for media professionals that use these platforms for advertising, sponsorship and promotion.

These changes aren't yet seismic but a trend has been developing in recent years, which is the kind of thing that Ofcom's Communications Market Report is adept at picking up and highlighting.

The report looks at people's take-up and usage of technology across a range of sectors, from TV and radio through to post, telecoms and the internet.

People in Northern Ireland now spend more than 20 hours every week online, and younger people are far more likely to be online than the over-65s.

People in households with children are also more likely to have an internet connection than those without children (90% versus 72%). Despite the rise in online activity, traditional media remains important and dominant.

Adults in Northern Ireland spend more time watching live TV (an average of 3 hours 36 minutes a day) than engaging in any other communications activity, though there are big differences between younger and older viewers.

Younger viewers watch less live TV and much more on-demand programming than older ones. Ofcom's research also shows that people continue to turn to TV first to keep up with the latest news. More than seven in ten adults (72%) in Northern Ireland say TV is the most important source of news in Northern Ireland, followed by radio (12%) and websites or apps (7%).

Listening to the radio continues to play an important part in our lives, and nine in 10 people in Northern Ireland tune in every week.

So, while viewers and listeners are consuming media in more ways than ever, the core activities of watching live TV and listening to radio remain strong. Researching the trends that are developing around these activities is key to understanding what people will be doing in three, five or 10 years.

Jonathan Rose is Ofcom's Northern Ireland director. Its Communications Market Report is available on its website, visit www.ofcom.org.uk/cmr

Belfast Telegraph

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